Spring Cave, others closed until April for area bat protection

RBC I As of Aug. 1, all caves on the White River National Forest have been managed under new direction. An adaptive management plan was developed to reduce the potential spread of white-nose syndrome in bats, while providing reasonable access to the caving community.
Since its discovery in 2006, white-nose syndrome has caused the death of more than 5 million bats in eastern North America. Bats are tough predators of mosquitos and other flying insects. Throughout the United States alone, scientists estimate that bats are worth more than $3.7 billion a year in reduced crop damage and pesticide use.
What does this mean for Spring Cave? Spring Cave is currently closed for the season, but will re-open April 16. The cave is closed during the fall swarming period for bats and the winter hibernation period, which is Aug. 15 to April 15 of each year. Fall swarming behavior in bats is believed to be a mating event that could allow gene flow between bats from otherwise isolated summer colonies.
Recent surveys at Spring Cave have documented more than 100 bats swarming during the fall swarming period (mid-August to mid-October).
Spring Cave was first considered a hibernaculum in 1977, when approximately 100 bats were noted during winter surveys. Subsequent trips in the 1990’s and 2000’s noted much smaller numbers, in the low teens. The most recent survey in 2013 detected an increase in bat numbers, particularly the Townsend’s big-eared bats, which are a Forest Service Sensitive Species.
Biologists are hoping that eliminating disturbance during the winter hibernation period will allow the bat population to increase.
Since Colorado does not have the large bat colonies found in other parts of the country, a hibernaculum with 100 bats is considered of high importance to bat populations in the state. Bats are extremely sensitive to disturbance during winter hibernation. Human disturbance can awaken bats and lead to costly depletion of fat reserves needed to survive the winter.
The USFS is asking the public to please be respectful of this closure. Spring Cave is an amazing place, and it warrants good stewardship by all. In addition, violations of this seasonal closure order could result in a fine of up to $5,000.
Once the cave is open in the spring (from April 16 to Aug. 14), visitors are required to register online before they enter the cave. Once people register, they will be issued a permit, which they need to sign and have in their possession when entering the cave.
Additionally, clothing and equipment used in caves in states/provinces where white-nose syndrome is found or suspected are prohibited. Decontamination procedures following US Fish and Wildlife Service protocols are required by everyone to enter any and all caves. The website www.fs.usda.gov/whiteriver has more information regarding registration and decontamination procedures as well seasonal closures of other caves on the White River National Forest.
For more information, please call the Blanco Ranger District, 970-878-4039.